A common question I’m asked may be paraphrased as:
- We have differentiated technology, and have been marketing on that basis.
- Our best sales cycles are the ones driven by line-of-business executives — for example Chief Marketing Officers — rather than IT.
- So (how) should we message with a business rather than IT focus?
My standard three-part answer is:
- You should at all times have a complete messaging stack that spans all relevant audiences. This is something I’ve been advocating for years. Please see for example my recent post summarizing many of my thoughts on strategic messaging, and the more detailed posts to which it links.
- The choice of what to emphasize in sales should be made on a meeting-by-meeting basis, with adaption on the fly as discussions unfold. This is so obvious it hardly bears saying. Of course your sales teams should be prepared for business and technical discussions alike. Of course your sales executives should understand which emphasis is called for when.
- You should alternate over time between benefit-oriented and technology-oriented emphases in your marketing. I’ll expand a little on that point below.
Even if you have a wonderful stack of dovetailed messages, you surely favor some over others. After all, your marketing budget is constrained. So is space on your website’s home page. So is space in the headline and subhead of your press releases. All your messages should be in good shape, and not just the ones you talk about the most. But at any particular time, there are indeed certain messages — and usually one particular message orientation — that you push most aggressively.
Loosely speaking, the minimum life of a particular top message is and should be 6-12 months, for multiple reasons. Bottom up: What triggers a change in your top message? A new product release? A new press tour? Some available marketing resources? 6-12 months matches well to those timetables. And top-down:
- Change any faster and the message won’t have time to sink in.
- Change any slower and your competitors will be imitating what you say.
Of course, people don’t immediately forget your old top message and buy into the new one as soon as you change. Thus, audiences react to your last few top-level messages at once. So should your last few messages be redundant or varied? The answer isn’t quite as clear as the pejorative word “redundant” suggests — I could as well have used “self-reinforcing” — but variety is indeed what I suggest. You don’t want to be perceived as “technology in search of a use case”; you also don’t want to be perceived as “all benefit claims with no technology to back them up”. And so you want people to remember that you tell both technology and business-benefit stories alike.